The fi­nal word

Joe McNally says shoot­ing groups of people can be a night­mare, but can be great fun too

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There might some pho­togs for whom pho­tograph­ing groups is en­joy­able, even fun. I sus­pect they are in the mi­nor­ity. A group shot usu­ally in­vokes night­mares about light­ing, com­po­si­tion, and mak­ing a shot un­der a ridicu­lous time gun.

For my Cre­ative Live class, above, I fol­lowed my ba­sic rule of groups: make it fast, make it fun. I had a won­der­ful as­sist right be­hind me: an enor­mous win­dow of frosted glass. Beau­ti­ful main light. But I was wor­ried about how long that light would stay with me. It was late af­ter­noon, and it was, after all, Seat­tle, the city where clouds stran­gle the sun on a rou­tine ba­sis.

See the small flashes in front of me, bounced into white sheets on the ground? At first, they were my only lights. Just a pair of Speed­lights, spark­ing the wash of soft day­light pil­ing through the gi­gan­tic win­dow be­hind me. I con­trolled these SB-5000 units with a WRR-10 ra­dio trans­ceiver ten-pinned into my D5. I sent them a sig­nal to pro­duce a blip of light, a splash.

But the light was still a bit blah, and in the process of get­ting blah-er, so I added a main light, off to cam­era left. It took the form of a five-foot Octa wrapped around a Pro­foto B-1, and also three SB-5000 units, mounted on a Las­to­lite tri-flash, and fir­ing through a 4-in-1 um­brella. The ef­fect on the group was pretty close in terms of feel, and both the main sources were dead­bang easy to con­trol. The Pro­foto light re­sponded to the air re­mote, while the Speed­lights I con­trolled with my WRR-10. In both in­stances, I could ad­just ra­tios ac­cord­ingly, seam­lessly, with­out ever leav­ing my cam­era.

But the main el­e­ment was not the light. It was the fun of it. I tried my best to keep to my mantra I men­tioned above. Oddly, one of the most im­por­tant pieces of equip­ment that helps the fun fac­tor is a tri­pod. I was on a heavy duty Gitzo here, so the cam­era was sta­ble and my lines straight. This en­abled me to be a bit of a gad­about, and just reach and hit the shut­ter re­lease dur­ing a laugh. It’s help­ful, for sure. I can make pic­tures with­out my eye in the cam­era.

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